First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds

First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds

Lee F. Hanmer, the Field Secretary of the Playground Association of America, wrote First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds to offer “helpful suggestions to committees and associations that are planning to begin or extend public playgrounds.”1 Published in 1908 by the Russell Sage Foundation, this 36 page booklet included ways to organize playgrounds; general information on playground sites, equipment, operations, and supervision; and the extensive playground organizing experience of Edith Darlington Ammon, the treasurer of the Pittsburgh Playground Association.2

First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds specifies four kinds of organizing administrations: Voluntary, Board of Education, Municipal, and Combinations, with each kind having three subsets of possible organizations. For example, the Voluntary category includes an organizing option of a committee of a local society or club, a joint committee of several societies or clubs, or a playground association organized with different departments. This last option was noted by Hanmer as the administration “most uniformly successful” because “it stands on its own feet and is not responsible to any other body. It is in a position to enlist public interest and support as a private club could not do.”3

Additionally, each type of organizing administration has a reference to a city where it was currently being employed. Thus if volunteers were interested in forming a playground association to oversee creating playgrounds in their own city, they could utilize not only the general information outlined in First Steps but also find further information from “Rochester, N.Y. 1907” for example.

The central part of First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds is the discussion of general considerations in planning playgrounds. Concerning playground sites, Hanmer emphasized the need for a “definite and comprehensive plan for the whole city.” He quotes as an example the playground plan for the city of Washington D.C. which the Organization Committee of the Playground Association of America created in 1906.4

The playground equipment discussion included a sample list of homemade apparatus and the costs for supplies, though Hanmer commented that “apparatus of this sort is neither so durable nor attractive as that furnished by the machine companies.”5 Though he suggested equipping the playground in a permanent way, he also noted that it is possible to start with just a sand pile.

A playground's “operations” in the early 20th century meant the days and hours that the playground was open and a prepared program of activities. At that time it was common for the playground to be open for 6-8 weeks in the summer from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day. As a program example, Hanmer included a page of “Playground and Vacation School Games” that listed ball games, bean bag games, singing games, gymnastic dancing, circle games, and school room games. Though he thought that having a planned schedule was necessary, he also felt that it shouldn't be utilized “rigidly” and in fact “much must be left to development upon the playground.”6

At this time Hanmer was considered “the best informed person as to the scope and development of the growing movement for play and recreation.” As such he lamented that “Equipment seems to be about the first thing thought of in connection with playgrounds. In reality it belongs last. Location and supervision are vastly more important.”7 In First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds, he declares that “It is worse than useless to attempt to conduct playgrounds without supervisors.” He felt that play and a “properly supervised playground” is “the school for citizenship.” His reasoning was that “Children may learn much from precept, but habits of honesty, loyalty, and fair play that become a real part of the character can be secured only through practice, and a well supervised playground is a safe place in which to practice.”8

Throughout First Steps are photographs of playgrounds to give visual support for this relatively new concept of structured playgrounds. In his travels as the field secretary for the national playground association, he similarly utilized “lantern slides” in his lectures to visually inspire the audiences with quality examples of playgrounds. Hanmer's emphasis on this visual tool is evidenced by nearly one fourth of the booklet being allocated for photos of playgrounds in such places as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.

In the final portion of the booklet, Hanmer quotes the paper that Edith Ammon shared at the Chicago Convention in the spring of 1906. Her practical experience included estimates of cost to provide a playground, suggestions for locating playgrounds and acquiring the space, and numerous tips on how to work with financial supporters and government entities. She also outlined the current laws relating to playgrounds for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York.

Concerning fundraising, Mrs. Ammon counseled, “In the beginning do not say much about the educational side of the playground question. It is, we know, the important side, but it is not that which will appeal to your prospective contributors and supporters.” Rather, she suggested, “Keep the interest through the child, the child you are trying to make happier and better.”9

Encompassing both concerns, Hanmer summarized the importance of establishing playgrounds by declaring that “play under proper conditions is essential to the health, as well as the physical, social, and moral well-being of the child. Hence, they are a necessity for all children – as much as schools.”10

  • 1. Hanmer, Lee F. First Steps in Organizing Playgrounds. Charities Publication Committee, New York. 1908. p. 3.
  • 2. Note: she is referenced as Mrs. Samuel Ammon in this booklet and as Mrs. Samuel A. Ammon in Playground Association of America documents. Her full name is disclosed in “Ammon Estate Claim Based on Intestate Laws.” The Gazette Times. 14 Oct 1919. <,3891031 > 3 Feb. 2013.
  • 3. Op.cit., Hanmer. p. 7.
  • 4. Op.cit., Hanmer. pp. 16-19.
  • 5. Op.cit., Hanmer. p. 21.
  • 6. Op.cit., Hanmer. pp. 22-23.
  • 7. Butler, George D. Pioneers in Public Recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company. 1965. p. 67.
  • 8. Op.cit., Hanmer. p. 24.
  • 9. Op.cit., Hanmer. p. 24.
  • 10. Op.cit., Hanmer. p. 17.